Many things at Cannes don't change, but leadership at Directors Fortnight is a different story. This year, there's a new team in town, led by artistic director Edouard Waintrop. Formerly in charge of Switzerland's Fribourg Film Festival, the longtime film critic replaced Frederic Boyer, who left Fortnight last fall after only two years following severe backlash from the French press for his programming decisions. (He's now the artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival.)
No stranger to the programming game or the pressures of Cannes, Waintroup sat down with Indiewire on Wednesday afternoon, a day ahead of the festival's opening night, to share some of his thoughts about this year's 21-title lineup — the result of watching more than 1,400 films.
He knows why he got the job.
"Once of the challenges was to make people speak of the Quinzaine in a positive way. That was not too much the case last year. Maybe it wasn't only a problem of the movies themselves, but it's not my problem. I know it wasn't only a problem with the quality of movies. It was also the lack of communication between the team here with the press before the festival. It was a lot of things that are the reasons I was hired. I have a good relationship with the press, and I know that a festival has to be made of very different movies. I'm sure that Frederic Boyer had good movies in his selections, but maybe all the good movies were of the same type, and that's a problem when you're making a festival selection. You have to play on different levels with different audiences and interests. I had the experience of four years in Switzerland and I always made my programs based on contrast between movies — from a comedy to a drama to an avant-garde movie. Maybe we're lucky this year because there were a lot of different good movies. The first criterion is to be good, and we had a lot."
He shrank the program.
"All the artistic side of the Quinzaine has been changed. We started between August and October last year and watched 1,400 films. The program was finished only the day before the press conference [announcing the lineup]. We decided to make the selection a little denser, from 25 films to 21. We're the only section to have less movies than the year before. That was choice not based on the quality of the movies we were seeing, because we have seen a lot of good movies. The problem is that you can't reasonably program 50 movies with the team we have. When I choose a movie, I want to do all I can for it. I can do that for 20 movies; for 50 movies all at once would be really difficult."
Fortnight has always been a place for discovery and sales activity, but those things don't impact his selections.
"This year we can say the industry is interested. From the moment we announced the selection at the end of April, a lot of the movies we had taken were bought by distributors. So maybe it's something that was lacking before. But when I'm looking at a movie, I'm looking at a movie. Afterward, when somebody asks me, I can think of whether this guy is a new Martin Scorsese or something like that."
He's not only geared toward first-time filmmakers.
"We have seven first-time filmmakers, but it's not our goal to show only new talent. Our challenge is to show very new movies one way or another. Michel Gondry might be known but "The We & the I" is the first time he has worked with a group of students writing the script together. It was shot with his lowest budget yet. So there were a lot of interesting ingredients. And the movie's good — that comes first! Merzak Allouache has made more movies than Michel Gondry but never has he made a drama like this year's "El taaib," because he's known for his comedies. This one is a drama that speaks about Algeria today."
"La noche de enfrente," the last film Chilean directed by the late Raul Ruiz, was not programmed only because it was Ruiz's final film.
"The Raul Ruiz film is a tribute to him not only because he died but because his last movie showed the accumulation of his art. I think he made this movie because he knew he wouldn't make a lot of movies afterward."
He's most excited to see the reactions to "Kill List" director Ben Wheatley's "Sightseers" and the five-hour "Gangs of Wasseypur."
"'Kill List' is of one genre and 'Sightseers' is another. We were excited to see the movie and show it. Ben Wheatley isn't so known here, but he is known by some people from very strange festivals. I'm very happy to show it. I really want to see the reaction for it. With 'Gangs of Wasseypur,' a lot of people are thinking about the five hours without thinking about that it's an action movie."
Movies wind up at Fortnight for a lot of reasons, but there aren't a ton of blind submissions.
"Each story is different. Michel Gondry's film came from a sales company. 'No' came directly from the filmmaker, Pablo Larraín, because he wanted to go to Cannes. 'Alyah' came directly from the producer. "La noche de enfrente" came directly from the producer. 'El tail' came directly from the director. Now he has a sales agent but he didn't have one when we selected the film. 'Fogo' was only seen by a friend of mine in Mexico and called me; I knew the director because I had seen her first movie a few years ago."
His interactions with the rest of Cannes just got more complicated.
"[Cannes artistic director] Thierry Fremaux is an old friend, but our relationship won't be so easy now. But I've known him for more than 20 years, when he was not even the director of the Lumiere Museum in Lyon. We are in competition, but we're friends."
There's at least one movie in the main competition this year he would have liked to program at the Quinzaine.
"I wanted the John Hillcoat movie, 'Lawless,' because I'm a big fan of his. We sent him a letter six months ago asking him about the project and he answered that he'd be happy to attend. But the moment Harvey Weistein took on the movie, we knew it would be difficult. In Berlin, we tried to talk to [sales company] Film Nation about the movie and they didn't answer, so we knew there was a reason for that. We're not angry at all, because if he's in competition and people like it, that's good for him. Our first interest in movies isn't the Quinzaine. It's that these movies are at Cannes.
He wants to get more American movies.
"I took only one movie, 'Room 237,' from Sundance this year. Our weakness this year is American cinema. I'm a big fan of American cinema but didn't find a lot of movies this year for Quinzaine. My hope is to do better with American cinema next year."